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On January 24, two anonymous sources at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) told Reuters that the Trump administration had instructed EPA officials to remove the data-heavy climate change page from the agency’s website, and that the page could be taken down as soon as the following day. A public backlash quickly ensued, and the Trump administration at least temporarily backed away from its plan to shut down the website on January 25, as E&E News reported.
Whether the Trump-led EPA will ultimately remove the website remains to be seen, but regardless, the episode represents a victory for open data and a guide for how whistleblowers can work with reporters to push back against Trump administration gag orders that have alarmed science and transparency advocates.
And judging from their initial response, major media outlets seem to recognize that seeking out whistleblowers is particularly important in the current political landscape.
On the same day that the EPA employees alerted Reuters of Trump’s plan to shut down the EPA climate website, Associated Press science writer Seth Borenstein reminded government scientists and officials that they can “securely and confidentially” send tips and documents to the AP via its SecureDrop service. The Washington Post also ran through its version of SecureDrop in a January 25 article titled, “Here’s how to leak government documents to The Post.”
Meanwhile, the staff at InsideClimate News (ICN) provided whistleblowers with a list of do’s and don’ts for revealing internal documents and information to ICN without compromising themselves.
It is safe to say that there is already widespread concern among civil servants about government transparency under the Trump administration, as a series of rogue climate-related tweets from National Park Service employees clearly demonstrates. But this battle over information is really just beginning, and it’s more important than ever that reporters work with whistleblowers to hold the White House accountable.
Before and since the election, media outlets have repeatedly failed to write headlines that adequately contextualize President-elect Donald Trump’s lies. Simply echoing his statements normalizes his behavior and can spread disinformation, particularly given the high proportion of people who read only headlines. Below is an ongoing list documenting the media’s failure to contextualize Trump’s actions in headlines and sometimes on social media. Some of the initial versions were subsequently altered (and these are marked with an asterisk), but many of the updates still failed to adequately contextualize Trump’s remarks.
President-elect Donald Trump spread numerous falsehoods, myths, and outright lies about the state of the American economy in 2016. As the year comes to a close, Media Matters offers eight examples of journalists and media outlets debunking Trump’s outrageously misleading statements.
President-elect Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner is reportedly trying to sell The New York Observer, the media outlet which he used during the presidential campaign to give Trump positive coverage throughout the 2016 election.
Reuters reported that Kushner, who owned The Observer while simultaneously advising Trump during his presidential bid, is hoping to sell the news site “so that he can focus on his budding political career.”
Although The Observer did not officially endorse Trump during the presidential campaign, the editorial board did endorse him during the primary campaign. The Observer staff was involved in advising and even writing speeches for candidate Trump, while the outlet itself pedaled pro-Trump content. This only confirmed the outlet’s cozy relationship with the Republican candidate, which led one staffer to resign.
While Kushner’s role in the Trump campaign has raised concerns, this is another signal that Kushner is using his father-in-law’s election for financial gain and to gain political clout. From the December 21 Reuters report:
President-elect Donald Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is looking to sell his newspaper, The New York Observer, the trade newspaper Women's Wear Daily reported on Wednesday.
Kushner may be selling the Observer to focus on his political career, according to the report. His wife, Ivanka Trump, is the president-elect's eldest daughter. Both he and his wife advised Trump during his successful presidential campaign.
Multiple media outlets published headlines that uncritically echoed a claim from President-elect Donald Trump’s spokesperson that Trump had sold his stocks, even though Trump’s team offered no actual proof that he had done so. The Associated Press correctly characterized the news by noting the lack of evidence in its headline, but many others continued a disturbing pattern of uncritically parroting false or unsubstantiated claims by Trump and his aides in their headlines, in effect giving Trump favorable coverage when he offers vague details or even spouts verifiable lies.
Trump on December 6 tweeted that the aircraft manufacturer Boeing was “building a brand new 747 Air Force One for future presidents, but costs are out of control, more than $4 billion,” adding, “Cancel order!” In a conference call later that day, a reporter asked Trump spokesperson Jason Miller if Trump “had investments in Boeing,” and Miller “said the president-elect had sold all of his stocks in June,” according to The Associated Press (AP).
But there is no proof that Miller’s claim is true, given that Trump has not submitted any kind of financial disclosure since May and that, as the AP noted, Trump didn’t announce he was selling his stocks at the time. Transition officials have also refused to provide evidence of the sales:
Trump's campaign did not announce the sell-off at the time, despite the fact that it could have been politically advantageous for the businessman to be seen taking steps to avoid potential conflicts of interest.
Miller, as well as other transition officials and lawyers from the Trump Organization, did not respond to requests from The Associated Press to provide evidence of the transactions.
The AP published this report with a headline that accurately paired Miller’s claim with the crucial context that he “provides no evidence”:
But other major outlets did not note the lack of evidence in their headlines, instead reporting Miller’s comments without necessary context:
These headlines continue a mainstream media pattern of publishing article titles that are favorable for Trump and that promote his claims, even when those claims are false or unsubstantiated. When Trump on November 18 falsely claimed that he prevented a Kentucky Ford plant from moving to Mexico -- even though there were never plans to move the plant -- multiple headlines ran with Trump’s bogus statement. When Trump on November 27 falsely claimed that “millions of people” illegally voted in the election, multiple mainstream outlet quoted Trump’s words in headlines and on social media without noting that they were false. And when Trump on November 30 sent a series of tweets claiming he would be leaving his business to avoid conflicts of interest, headlines ran with his statement, even though Trump offered no new information on how he would actually carry out the plan. As ThinkProgress’ Judd Legum noted, Trump has been “able to generate whatever headlines he wants based on substance-free tweets” and claims.
It is crucial that headlines accurately explain a story because, for most people, the phrase at the top of a piece is the only part of the article they will actually read. As The Washington Post reported, “roughly six in 10 people acknowledge that they have done nothing more than read news headlines in the past week,” and “that number is almost certainly higher than that, since plenty of people won't want to admit to just being headline-gazers but, in fact, are.”
Trump has been a documented liar throughout the course of his presidential campaign and transition. When his claims lack proof or are demonstrably false, headlines should reflect that reality, rather than giving a serial misinformer the benefit of the doubt.
Kobach “Wrote The Book” On Muslim Registry And Was Behind Anti-Immigrant SB 1070
A reported architect behind President-elect Donald Trump’s extreme immigration proposals, radio host and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach has received significant media attention following the announcement that he was joining Trump’s transition team. However, media outlets are failing to note his ties to hate groups and nativist organizations and his attacks on immigrants and LGBTQ people.
A report by Reuters exposed a systematic attempt to limit early voting in North Carolina, which has been shown to disenfranchise minority voters and continue what appears to be a coordinated effort to suppress some Americans’ right to vote. Yet right-wing media ignore this reality as they focus on making unfounded claims of rampant voter fraud.
Through a public records request, Reuters obtained emails from North Carolina Republicans that show “state and county Republican officials lobbied ... to keep early-voting sites open for shorter hours on weekends and in evenings – times that usually see disproportionately high turnout by Democratic voters.”
Dallas Woodhouse, the North Carolina Republican Party executive director, sent emails urging “Republicans serving on county election boards to follow the ‘party line’ on curtailing the early voting period.” While local newspapers reported on the Woodhouse emails in August, the Reuters report shows his comments were not an isolated example but rather part of a pattern of “lobbying to limit voting hours.”
For example, emails from Garry Terry, the chairman of the Republican Party for North Carolina’s First Congressional District, emphasized the partisan motivations for early voting restrictions, encouraging election board members “to act ‘in the best interest of the Republican Party’ by opposing Sunday voting and restricting early voting,” which are historically periods of increased minority turnout, Reuters reported. Elaine Hewitt, a member of the Rowan County Republican Executive Committee, sent early voting proposals that “included just one site for the first four days and no sites on Sundays,” claiming that “with all of the opportunities to vote … there is no justification for requiring election workers to work on Sundays.” Reuters noted that “state and county Republican officials lobbied members of at least 17 county election boards” to restrict early voting and Sunday voting opportunities.
The focus on limiting early voting and Sunday voting represents the newest effort to disenfranchise minorities in North Carolina. As media outlets have noted, “This isn’t the first time that the North Carolina Republican Party has been criticized for voter suppression this election year.” The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit reaffirmed the racial dimension of these attacks on voting rights when it struck down the North Carolina voter ID law, referred to as a “monster” law, because it “agreed with allegations that North Carolina’s omnibus bill selectively chose voter-ID requirements, reduced the number of early-voting days and changed registration procedures in ways meant to harm blacks.”
While some have claimed that accusations of voter suppression are mere “innuendo” or hysterical speculation, these emails provide evidence of a systematic attempt to limit early voting, which fits into the broader pattern of voter suppression in North Carolina.
While the evidence showing active efforts at voter suppression continues to pile up, right-wing media are focusing on propagating claims of voter fraud. Right-wing media figures continue to fearmonger about dead voters, in-person voter fraud, and inaccurate voter rolls, even though expert after expert has thoroughly debunked each and every voter fraud myth. The focus on promoting fears about voter fraud helps provide the rhetorical ammunition to legitimize the continuing war on voting rights.
Reports that benchmark health insurance premiums will increase by an average of 25 percent from 2016 to 2017 for plans purchased on Healthcare.gov marketplace exchanges have prompted right-wing media outlets to claim the price hike is proof of “the collapse” of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and evidence of a so-called Obamacare “death spiral.” In reality, the majority of individual insurance customers will be insulated from cost increases due to proportional increases in the health care subsidies, and these premium increases are still in line with anticipated health care costs initially predicted by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).
A strong majority of Americans want the moderators of the presidential debates to fact-check the candidates, according to two new polls. The will of the voters comes contrary to that of Republican nominee Donald Trump (who journalists note has engaged in an unprecedented campaign of lies), his supporters in the media, and the moderator of the third presidential debate, Fox News’ Chris Wallace.
Media Matters has joined numerous journalists in calling on the presidential debate moderators to fact-check the candidates in real time to ensure that viewers are not left with a “he said-she said” version of the facts. That effort is more important than ever given Trump’s unprecedented willingness to lie.
Trump and his team have pushed back against suggestions that the moderators should call out candidates when they don't tell the truth, with Trump saying, “I think that the candidates should police themselves.” Trump’s allies at Fox News have also claimed “it’s not the job” of moderators to fact-check candidates, with Wallace saying they should not serve as a “truth squad.”
According to a Monmouth University poll released today, “Most voters (60%) believe one of the duties of the moderators is to fact check candidates who state false information during the debates. Only 31% say the moderators should leave it to the candidates to point out any false statements by their opponent.”
Reuters similarly reported today, “In a strong signal that most viewers will also be hoping the debates bring clarity, some 72 percent of respondents said they want to see moderators point out when a candidate says something that is untrue.”
A voter explained to Reuters why this is so important:
"It helps the audience, particularly me, to recognize what’s bull crap and what’s real," said Harvey Leven, 63, a teacher from Farmington Hills, Michigan. "It’s easy for the candidates to quote a statistic and people accept it."
According to both polls, Trump supporters were less likely than backers of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton to support a fact-checking moderator.
Media across the spectrum are claiming that Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s diagnosis of pneumonia “vindicated” conservative conspiracy theorists who have long made baseless assertions about Clinton’s health. These claims have recently been mainstreamed by non-partisan outlets despite having been debunked time and time again.
New Jersey governor and Trump campaign adviser Chris Christie held a press conference on August 30 to announce he would veto a bill passed by the state legislature to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour. During the press conference Christie attacked efforts to raise the minimum wage, citing right-wing media myths that raising wages would hurt businesses and lead to job automation.
In the year since the Supreme Court struck down state-level same-sex marriage bans, anti-gay extremists have continued to peddle misinformation about LGBT equality in the media. After more than 12 years of pushing lies and wildly inaccurate predictions about the consequences of marriage equality, it’s time for the media to stop letting anti-gay activists comment on LGBT rights without disclosing their proven track record of dishonest extremism.
It’s been a year since the Supreme Court’s June 26, 2015, Obergefell v. Hodges decision which found state-level same-sex marriage bans unconstitutional. In the decade leading up to the decision, anti-LGBT extremists and hate group leaders peddled specious talking points about the consequences of “redefining traditional marriage.” In media appearances, these figures predicted that allowing same-sex couples to marry would cause a “slippery slope” to legalized bestiality, incest, and pedophilia; pushed the myth that gay men are more likely to engage in pedophilia than straight men; and hyped claims that pastors and churches were in danger of being forced to perform same-sex marriages.
Several of these groups were so deceptive that in 2010, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), designated them anti-LGBT “hate groups” for “propagating known falsehoods” and pushing “demonizing propaganda.” One of these groups was the Family Research Council (FRC), whose officials have accused gay people of trying to "recruit" children into homosexuality and endorsed a Uganda law that would have imposed the death penalty for engaging in gay sex.
For years, major cable news networks have hosted FRC representatives to comment on LGBT equality without identifying FRC as a hate group. Despite the efforts of progressive Christians to stop outlets from letting FRC representatives conflate their extremism with mainstream Christianity, the group continues to have a significant media presence. Since last June’s Obergefell decision, mainstream media outlets have continued to call on FRC to discuss LGBT rights, including:
In the past year, the media have given other anti-LGBT hate groups similar passes. In September, mainstream news outlets like The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Reuters failed to identify Liberty Counsel, the anti-LGBT hate group representing Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis, instead calling it merely a “Christian” or “conservative” organization. In April, major news outlets largely failed to identify the American Family Association (AFA) -- the group organizing a boycott of Target over its transgender-inclusive restroom policy -- as an anti-LGBT hate group.
The few instances when mainstream media like The Associated Press and CBS News’ Bob Schieffer did properly identify hate group leaders, anti-gay conservatives were predictably outraged. Right-wing anger at journalists who expose anti-LGBT extremism illustrates why it’s so vital to disclose when sources or commentators represent hate groups. The public has a right to know that the same groups with a track record of fearmongering about children’s safety to oppose marriage equality are now those peddling the anti-LGBT movement’s new favorite myth that LGBT nondiscrimination protections endanger the safety of women and children in bathrooms.
A year after Obergefell, it’s time for the media to stop letting the same extremists use media appearances to float new lies and recycle mythical talking points to oppose LGBT equality. Outlets seeking to provide balanced coverage of LGBT rights ought to find commentators who don’t have a decade-long track record of spreading hateful lies about LGBT people.
Presumptive Republican presidential nominee and climate science denier Donald Trump told Reuters that if elected, he would renegotiate the historic Paris climate change agreement -- if not scrap it altogether -- because “China doesn’t adhere to it, and China’s spewing into the atmosphere." But media outlets should think twice before repeating Trump’s claims about China, which experts say is already well on its way toward meeting its obligations under the Paris agreement thanks to major investments in clean energy and energy efficiency.
Over the course of the 2016 presidential primary, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has laid forth a series of problematic policy proposals and statements -- ranging from his plan to ban Muslims from entering the United States to his suggestion that the United States default on debt -- that media have warned to be “dangerous,” “fact-free,” “unconstitutional,” “contradictory,” “racist,” and “xenophobic.” Media Matters compiled an extensive list of Trump’s widely panned policy plans thus far along with the debunks and criticism from media figures, experts and fact-checkers that go along with them.